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Thursday, August 11, 2022
ArlingtonNew School Board head aims for better APS-community relations

New School Board head aims for better APS-community relations

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Arlington’s new School Board chair for 2022-23 has tacitly acknowledged frayed relations between county leaders and the constituents they serve, and in remarks kicking off his tenure seemed to ask both sides to work toward repairing them.

“I’ve seen community trust in our governing institutions erode,” Reid Goldstein said during six minutes’ worth of remarks after being tapped as School Board chair July 1. The public, he acknowledged, has heaped “criticism and cynicism” on those in power, including school-system leadership.

“We know our challenges,” Goldstein acknowledged. “I invite the community along [to work toward] a higher level of effectiveness. Bring your energy, your expertise. If you’re willing to contribute, there is a path to do so.”

As had been expected, Goldstein was tapped by colleagues to succeed Barbara Kanninen for the coming year. Cristina Diaz-Torres was selected as vice chair for the year.

It will be a second turn at the helm for Goldstein, who previously chaired the School Board in 2018-19.

In his remarks, Goldstein – who unlike much of the past year chose to don a jacket and tie for this meeting – praised Kanninen as chair for her “Herculean job” leading the School Board during a year that saw schools come back to life after COVID shutdowns.

“I’m optimistic that we’re headed into a school year without a significant threat to public health,” the new chair said, speaking of a “post-pandemic” world.

Goldstein, an Arlington resident for nearly 40 years, was elected to the School Board in 2015 and re-elected in 2019.Upon this December’s departure of Kanninen (who is not seeking re-election), he will become the board’s senior member.

About four-fifths of the school system’s annual budget comes from the County Board, which this year decided to keep the financial spigot wide open by not reducing tax rates despite spiraling increases in home values.

During his tenure on the School Board, Goldstein frequently has talked the talk and at times walked the walk of a fiscal hawk. He has questioned approval of pricey new facilities when a backlog of maintenance projects for existing buildings exists.

In his remarks, Goldstein called for a more nimble school system with more productivity. He also said that, with the school system suddenly seeing student-body growth rates far below what was projected just a few years before, “we can turn our capital-improvement resources to renewing and refurbishing existing older facilities.”

(That said, the school system also is embarking on one of its most expensive capital projects ever in the new Arlington Career Center campus.)

Kanninen’s departure from the dais at the end of the year is likely to impact the balance of power on the School Board, which despite being entirely filled by Democrats has seen extensive factionalism in recent years.

Those keeping score have seen Kanninen and Nancy Van Doren spar for the hearts and minds of other board members. With Van Doren’s departure in 2020, it now seems to be Kanninen and Mary Kadera facing off most often, although Diaz-Torres also seems to be carving out a niche for herself and emerging as a force, as well.

It’s almost a given that School Board is the most thankless political post in Arlington, perhaps any locality for that matter. Arlington School Board members were criticized by some after going into a defensive crouch at the onset of COVID, allowing the school system to descend into months of online learning that many fear lasted too long and caused too much damage to students, academically and psychologically.

On the other hand, the board was hit with criticism from those who felt it wasn’t going far enough to protect students from the pandemic.

When the pandemic hit, some parents decided to move their children to other localities, to home-schooling or to private or parochial schools, and some of those students have never returned. The school system over the past two year also has seen an exodus of teachers, support personnel and even top-level administrators.

Arlington School Board members, too, have been leaving in droves: Van Doren and Tannia Talento departed in 2020 after relatively short tenures of six and four years; Monique O’Grady left in 2021 after a single four-year term; and Kanninen attempted to move up to County Board in a 2020 special election but was defeated in the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s nominating process.

Whether Goldstein opts to seek a new term in 2023 remains to be seen. As for now, however, he says he is ready to lead the body for the coming year.
“I appreciate the vote of confidence by my colleagues,” he said.

Goldstein’s path to a School Board seat proved the power of persistence:

• In 2008, he ran for the Democratic endorsement in a six-candidate field, falling to Emma Violand-Sánchez and Libby Garvey.

• In 2012, he again threw his hat into the ring in seeking appointment to the remaining months of Garvey’s term, after she had been elected to County Board, but was not selected from among a field of 16 aspirants.

• In 2015, however, Goldstein defeated Sharon Dorsey in the Democratic nominating process that opened up after two-term incumbent Abby Raphael declined to run again. As normally is the case in Arlington, the Democratic endorsement served as the de-facto election, as Goldstein cruised to a general-election victory in 2015 and then to re-election in 2019.

• • •

Like other elected bodies and the public in general, the Arlington School Board appears to be winging it as circumstances dictate and moods strike, when it comes to masking in the era of COVID.

For the July 1 organizational meeting, all five School Board members plus Superintendent Francisco Dúran were on the dais (something that hasn’t happened in some time), and all but Kadera were mask-free.

In recent months at both School Board and County Board meetings, masks have been on, masks have been off, while some board members have been in person and others have been online.

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